Broadway Christian Church has helped the community; now it needs the community’s help
Retired pastor Bob Yawberg recalls his first visit to the abandoned structure on the corner of Broadway and Wayne in downtown Fort Wayne.
“A massive oak door opened into a [new] chapter of my life,” he says. “Plaster was loose, areas crumbling and about to fall, but above it all were brilliant stained glass windows, glowing as the October sun shone through.” The date was Oct. 2, 1973. In January 1974, Broadway Christian Church opened its doors, defying the mid-20th century movement of churches from the inner city to the suburbs. Since then Broadway Christian has ministered to thousands through preaching of the word and meeting the needs of its neighborhood and city.
Now the four-story structure needs an elevator.
“Broadway meets together in a building that was built in 1871,” explains Pastor Ryan Cochran. “The only room on the property that is fully accessible to individuals with physical limitations is the sanctuary. Many in our congregation and community who would like to participate in our ministries are not able to do so.”
In 16 months the congregation of 350 has raised more than two-thirds of the $850,000 needed for the project, according to Cochran. On Sunday, Nov. 18, the Unclouded Day quartet and band will present a 4 p.m. concert to assist with final fundraising efforts for the project that will include installation of a five-stop elevator and improvements to enhance Broadway’s outreach and ministry.
The building at 910 Broadway was built in 1871 as Wayne Street Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Gothic Revival structure was a masterpiece of stained glass windows, arched entrances, and a triple-arched stone arcade at the north entrance. In 1968 it and another congregation merged to form First Wayne Street United Methodist Church. In February, 1973, the members met briefly in the building at 910 Broadway for a “service of farewell.” Then, led by a torchbearer carrying the light from the altar, the congregation marched down Wayne Street for its first service in the newly constructed contemporary building at 300 E. Wayne, leaving the old Wayne Street ME Church empty and forlorn.
At the time, Yawberg was leading a suburban church that planned to expand its building. Sketches, blueprints, and models were created; financing was sought. But at every turn the leadership was met with roadblocks, thwarting their ambitious plans. Yawberg poured over the Scriptures, seeking wisdom and guidance. One October morning in 1973, he attended a city ministerial breakfast meeting where then-Mayor Ivan Lebamoff spoke.
“His theme was ‘Fort Wayne – Present and Future’,” Yawberg recalls. “He challenged us to ‘set a new moral tone, create a new moral fiber in Fort Wayne’. Before closing he told of plans to again make downtown Fort Wayne ‘a center of beauty and influence’.” As the mayor spoke, the [Holy] Spirit revealed to me a vision . . . a church building sitting at the corner of Broadway and West Wayne . . . empty and for sale! I had a compelling urge to drive by the site.”
With permission to enter the structure, Yawberg was overwhelmed by what he saw. “A bulletin lay on the pulpit, dated Feb. 4, 1973 — the last worship service held there,” he recalls. Adjusting my eyes to the darkened sanctuary, I looked on an unbelievable scene. There before me lay the very floor plan we had sketched for the new structure at 1414 Archer Ave. . . . beautiful oak pews in a semi-circle all facing the altar . . . pulpit and finely engraved cross at the center wall . . . an altar rail with purple cushions . . . a pipe organ, now dusty and silent . . . Classroom after classroom, all fully equipped.
“God called me that morning to fill the pulpit at 910 Broadway!” he exclaims. In the years that followed, Broadway Christian Church became known for ministry to those who were poor and hungry — providing clothing, food, assistance with utility bills and bus passes, and encouraging personal responsibility and a relationship with Christ.
In 1988 then-St. Joseph United Methodist Church music minister James Zanker formed CHORDS Vocal Ensemble, which performed more than 450 concerts throughout the tri-state area until its 2015 farewell concert. In early 2016, a remnant of CHORDS reunited to form the Unclouded Day Quartet. Together with musicians from the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, retired band directors and area bras players, the group will present a program of gospel music, hymn arrangements, and patriotic selections — all seasoned with a dash of Dixieland, a smattering of classical, and the strains of smooth jazz.
There is no cost for admission to the Nov. 18 concert, but a free-will offering will be accepted during the program, with all proceeds going to the building project. Donations may also be mailed to the church at 910 Broadway, Fort Wayne, IN 46802. For more information, contact the church at 260-423-2347